Poem Friday: Kiri Piahana-Wong’s ‘Kahukeke’ flows down the page like water, honeyed in its fluency

night swimming author pic



Here at Hikurangi,

the waters pour

down Waitekahu

and into the sea.

On the threshold,

the surf surges up

against the river.

Quietly the water

is absorbed.

Even in flood, the

river is never as

strong as the ocean

it returns to.

Kahukeke used to

kneel here, washing

in the river.


Kiri’s note on the poem: At the moment I am working on my second poetry collection, which has the working title ‘Tidelines.’ The collection is based around the history of the Te Kawerau a Maki people, kaitiaki of the Waitakere Ranges region in West Auckland where I currently live. Other iwi also traversed this area, amongst them Kahukeke, who was the wife of the senior tohunga of the Tainui canoe, Rakataura. In this poem, and others in the collection, I am attempting to inhabit the lives and voices of these early tūpuna.

Author bio: Kiri Piahana-Wong is a New Zealander of Māori (Ngāti Ranginui), Chinese and Pākehā (English) ancestry. She is a poet, editor and publisher. Her first poetry collection, night swimming (Anahera Press), was published in 2013.

Paula’s note: Kiri’s poem flows down the page like water, honeyed in its fluency. Such fluency is addictive; you keep returning to the beginning to fall again into the watery flow. Then, the final image arrests you–the way, in the midst of riveting scenery, and the cyclic and never-ending movement of nature, there is the precise and vital instance of human activity. This image of a figure kneeing is poignant, potent. In such ways, the poem is utterly absorbing.

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